Welcome!

Java IoT Authors: Elizabeth White, Peter Silva, Yeshim Deniz, Antonella Corno, Klaus Enzenhofer

Related Topics: Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Microsoft Cloud, Cloud Security

Java IoT: Article

Externalizing Fine-Grained Authorization from Applications

An Entitlements Server allows enterprises to externalize fine-grained authorization from an application’s logic

The recent spike in insider threats, coupled with a rise in compliance considerations, has forced organizations to ensure only authorized users access sensitive application functionality and data. Historically, user entitlements or authorization logic has been embedded inside an application. For example, if the user of an application meets specific conditions, such as a specific role, access to that application function will be granted at runtime. But if the definition of specific authorization conditions changes over time, then the application developer needs to modify the application's source code, test, and re-deploy the application.

Suppose a homegrown portal application must present a sensitive piece of customer information such as a Social Security Number (SSN) when a service representative views a customer's profile. It is determined that in order to ensure compliance with various privacy regulations, only directors and senior managers may be able to view a customer's SSN. A decision has to be dynamically made whenever the application must show an SSN as to whether the current user may view the actual data or some default value (e.g., "XXX-XX-XXXX"). The decision must take into account the user's job title. A dozen parts of the application that can display a customer's SSN mean a dozen places for this business logic to be applied.

Now assume that the policy needs to be changed after the application has been in production for some time. The business has determined that senior managers in California may not view an SSN. This is an exceptional situation that requires another piece of information to be considered as part of the entitlement decision. But what if we take the example even further? Suppose that only directors above a certain salary grade can view SSNs. Now the entitlement logic has been split into multiple decisions based on runtime attributes. So the business logic must be adapted.

You can see that authorization or entitlement policies evolve very differently from application requirements. Having the entitlement logic "hard wired" into the business logic means changing code each time there is a policy change. A lot of organizations also outsource their application development, which means often times they don't own the code that handles the business logic directly. This can lead to further inefficiencies and delays in deploying changes in policies. If we keep the entitlement policies outside of the application, they can be changed without modifying the application.

In this article, we explore a new approach designed to externalize user entitlements from applications through the use of a dedicated access control solution for the application tier. Externalized entitlements mean separating fine-grained authorization logic from business logic. One benefit of this is transparency; the entitlements are now understandable and measurable beyond the context of the application. This is important so that a company may review their entitlement policies for completeness and accuracy against corporate standards.

Roles and Entitlements
Authentication is about validating a user's identity through the use of credentials such as a password, a security card, or a digital certificate. Authorization (or "access control") is the ability to provide an authenticated user access to specific operations of an application.

Authorization is based on the concept of a "role." A role defines what a user is entitled to do. For example, a user in a "broker" role is entitled to transact goods on behalf of others. A role can have qualifying attributes (e.g., seniority, ranking) and can support constraints (e.g., a broker may only start transactions under specific circumstances). Based on his/her role, a user is granted access to specific resources necessary to fill that role.

There are two main kinds of roles: Applications Roles and External Roles. An Applications Role is a collection of users, groups, and other Application Roles; it can be assigned to an enterprise user, group, or External Role in an identity store, or another Application Role in the policy store (see Figure 1). An External Role is the same as an Enterprise Role or Enterprise Group; it's typically implemented as an LDAP group in the identity store.

Application Roles can be many-to-many mapped to External Roles. For example, the external group "employee" (stored in an LDAP-based identity store) can be mapped to the Application Role "customer_support_member" defined in one application and to the Application Role "IT_member" defined in another application.

An Entitlement groups related resources, possibly of different types, needed to perform a business function. In effect, an Entitlement is a reusable collection of access rights that can be granted to multiple principals (users or applications such as web services).

Role-Based and Attribute-Based Access Control
Role-Based Access Control or RBAC, originally defined by NIST [1], formalizes a reference model for controlling access to resources where permissions are not directly associated to users but are defined in roles. The RBAC standard specifies a core set (administrative and system functions) and additional functionality including role hierarchies, constraints, and separation of duty (i.e., "defining a role" and "assigning a role" are separated).

Enterprise RBAC extends RBAC principles to enterprise roles. In addition, Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC), a natural evolution of RBAC, uses attributes (e.g., social security number or IP address) to define access control rules and access requests (XACML [2] is an example of an ABAC framework). An ABAC policy specifies one or more claims that need to be satisfied before a user is granted access, for example, the user must be a certain age.

Fine-Grained Authorization Model
In a typical XACML-based authorization model, the administrator first defines policies at the Policy Administration Point (PAP), essentially a console allowing policy definition, selection, and attachment. Then attempted access to a protected resource (for example a web service request) is intercepted by a Policy Enforcement Point (PEP), which parses the request and leverages a Policy Decision Point (PDP) to determine whether the request should be granted or denied. The PEP / PDP combination relies on a Policy Information Point (PIP), generally a user directory, to fetch information relevant to the requester for the policy evaluation and policy decision process.

All the access control information required to make the application secure is separate from the application logic and is persisted as modifiable metadata (mostly XML files) packaged with the application.

Fine-Grained Authorization Solutions
A centralized access control solution offers the reuse of authentication and authorization services as well as easier reporting for compliance and regulatory requirements, allowing administrators to control multiple applications through a higher level of granularity.

Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) application servers provide container security including authorization based on roles. Developers can isolate security code from their business logic and delegate security to the application server infrastructure. However, application server authorization doesn't scale well to the fine-grained access control needs of multiple enterprise applications. A dedicated fine-grained authorization engine is required to complement the functionality provided by the application server.

Introducing Entitlements Server Technology
As previously noted, entitlements are a corollary of roles: being in a specific role entitles you to specific resources. Entitlements are tied to the application as they drive runtime permissions.

Entitlements management enables organizations to define granular access controls for their users based on the attributes of the user, the resource, and the context of the request.

An Entitlements Server is a standalone fine-grained authorization application that allows an organization to protect its resources by defining and managing policies that control access to, and usage of, these resources. Access privileges are defined in a policy by specifying who can do what to which resource, when it can be done, and how. The policy can enforce controls on all types of resources including software components (e.g., URLs, servlets, JavaServer Pages [JSPs], or EJBs used to construct an application), and business objects (e.g., representations of user accounts, personal profiles and contracts such as bank accounts in a banking application, patient records in a health care application, or anything used to define a business relationship).

An Entitlements Server supports the creation of role policies and access control policies. Role policies are used to define constraints regarding which users are assigned roles. Access control policies define access to the software components and business objects mentioned earlier.

An Entitlements Server typically performs the following functionality:

  • Separates security decision making from application logic.
  • Distributes policies from the PAP to the PDPs.
  • Caches policies and authorization decisions for performance.
  • Updates security policies at runtime.
  • Offers a flexible architecture that supports both embedded and remote PDPs (for centralized or distributed policy decisions).
  • Audits all access decisions and management operations.
  • Supports the XACML request / response protocol for authorization inquiries by a client application.
  • Integrates with existing security and identity management systems by leveraging enterprise data in relational databases and LDAP directories.

An Entitlements Server comprises centralized policy management with centralized or distributed policy decision-making. The architecture of an Entitlements Server is based on the interaction model of entities presented in the XACML specifications.

Entitlements Server Components
A typical Entitlements Server implements the XACML-based authorization model described earlier, including a PAP, which makes rules and policies available to the PDP in order for that entity to reach a grant or deny decision for a request to access the protected resource. The PAP generally includes an administration console, management application programming interfaces (APIs) dealing with resource and role catalogs, authorization and role- mapping policies, as well as management command-line utilities.

When the Entitlements Server is deployed, a PDP receives a request for authorization, evaluates the request based on applicable policies, reaches a decision and returns the decision to the PEP, the entity thatfirst made the authorization call. The PDP can also retrieve additional subject, resource, action, and environment attributes from a Policy Information Point to add contextual information to the request.

The PEP is a software component that intercepts the request to the protected application, passes it to the PDP and enforces the security decision returned from the PDP (the PDP may also return information with the decision [referred to as an "obligation"] that allows that decision to be enforced within a particular context). The PEP component can be the protected application itself or a "security module."

The Entitlements Server may offer two types of security modules. One type acts purely as a PDP by receiving requests and reaching decisions. The other type combines the PDP and PEP functionality. Security modules can accommodate various operating environments such as Java and Microsoft .NET applications.

The Attribute Authorities component illustrated in Figure 1 is in effect the PIP. Attribute retrievers are available for LDAP and relational database data sources.

Advanced Entitlements Servers implement the PEP Decision API, a part of the OpenAZ framework [3]. The OpenAZ package provides access from a PEP to a remote or embedded PDP.

Entitlements Server Policies
An Entitlements Server may support the creation of authorization policies and mapping policies. An Authorization Policy is created to return a decision ("grant" or "deny") as a result of a request for access to a protected target resource. The decision is based on the profile of the requesting principal (e.g., a user). An Authorization Policy is applicable to a request for access if the parameters in the request match those specified in the policy.

Consider this policy syntax:

GRANT the Support_Manager_East role MODIFY access to the Incidents servlet if the request is made from an IP address of 100.100.20.20

This Authorization Policy grants any user that is a member of the Support_Manager_East role access to the Incidents servlet for the purpose of modifying it. The policy is also constrained by a condition: the request must be made from IP address 100.100.20.20. Thus, if the parameters in the request match the parameters in the policy, and the request is made from IP address 100.100.20.20, the request is granted, otherwise the policy is ignored.

A Role Mapping Policy allows you to dynamically assign (grant) role membership to a user or dynamically deny (revoke) role membership from a user. A Role Mapping Policy defines which users or External Roles are mapped to an Authorization Policy. Role Mapping Policies are written to define which subjects (user and external roles) are assigned to the applicable role. They may also include conditions, i.e., constraints that must be evaluated to true for the policy to be included in the authorization decision.

Consider the following policy syntax:

GRANT the Employee group Application Role Support_Manager_East if the request is made from an IP address of 100.100.20.20

This policy grants the Application Role Support_Manager_East to any user that is a member of the group Employee. The policy is constrained by a condition: the request must be made from IP address 100.100.20.20. Thus, if the parameters in the request match the parameters in the Role Mapping Policy, and the request is made from IP address 100.100.20.20, the Application Role is granted otherwise the Role Mapping Policy is ignored.

Conclusion
An Entitlements Server allows enterprises to externalize fine-grained authorization from an application's logic, thus allowing developers to focus on business logic and leave fine-grained authorization decisions to security administrators.

References

  1. NIST: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Computer Security Division (CSD) provides standards to protect information systems against threats to the confidentiality and integrity of corporate information.
  2. XACML: The Access Control Markup Language (XACML) describes a policy language (general access control requirements) and an access control decision request / response language. The RBAC Profile of XACML specification defines a profile for the use of XACML in expressing policies that use role-based access control (RBAC). In this case, RBAC "roles" are expressed as XACML Subject Attributes. For example, a specific XACML Permission PolicySet contains the permissions associated with the RBAC Manager role.
  3. OpenAZ: The Open Authorization API (OpenAZ) provides a standard interface between an application and a general authorization service. It also provides an effective way to enable authorization providers to plug in client-side authorization functionality.
  4. Oracle Entitlements Server: Oracle Entitlements Server (OES) is a fine-grained authorization management solution that externalizes and centralizes administration of enterprise entitlements, simplifies authorization policies, and enforces security decisions in distributed, heterogeneous applications.

More Stories By Marc Chanliau

Marc Chanliau has been in the software industry for more than 20 years and is currently a director of product management at Oracle where he is responsible for Identity Management solutions and innovations. He is heavily involved in security and XML standards groups including serving as the first chair person of the OASIS Security Services Technical Committee (SSTC), which culminated in the adoption of SAML as an official OASIS standard, participating on the WS-Security Technical Committee, helping to define the Liberty Alliance 2.0 specifications, and participating in the Java Specification Request (JSR) committee.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Web Real-Time Communication APIs have quickly revolutionized what browsers are capable of. In addition to video and audio streams, we can now bi-directionally send arbitrary data over WebRTC's PeerConnection Data Channels. With the advent of Progressive Web Apps and new hardware APIs such as WebBluetooh and WebUSB, we can finally enable users to stitch together the Internet of Things directly from their browsers while communicating privately and securely in a decentralized way.
Keeping pace with advancements in software delivery processes and tooling is taxing even for the most proficient organizations. Point tools, platforms, open source and the increasing adoption of private and public cloud services requires strong engineering rigor - all in the face of developer demands to use the tools of choice. As Agile has settled in as a mainstream practice, now DevOps has emerged as the next wave to improve software delivery speed and output. To make DevOps work, organization...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm.
What sort of WebRTC based applications can we expect to see over the next year and beyond? One way to predict development trends is to see what sorts of applications startups are building. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Arin Sime, founder of WebRTC.ventures, will discuss the current and likely future trends in WebRTC application development based on real requests for custom applications from real customers, as well as other public sources of information,
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute, owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Interoute is the owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform which encompasses 12 data centers, 14 virtual data centers and 31 colocation centers, with connections to 195 add...
TechTarget storage websites are the best online information resource for news, tips and expert advice for the storage, backup and disaster recovery markets. By creating abundant, high-quality editorial content across more than 140 highly targeted technology-specific websites, TechTarget attracts and nurtures communities of technology buyers researching their companies' information technology needs. By understanding these buyers' content consumption behaviors, TechTarget creates the purchase inte...
With the introduction of IoT and Smart Living in every aspect of our lives, one question has become relevant: What are the security implications? To answer this, first we have to look and explore the security models of the technologies that IoT is founded upon. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nevi Kaja, a Research Engineer at Ford Motor Company, will discuss some of the security challenges of the IoT infrastructure and relate how these aspects impact Smart Living. The material will be delivered i...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Lachapelle, CEO of the Professional Evaluation and Certification Board (PECB), will provide an overview of various initiatives to certifiy the security of connected devices and future trends in ensuring public trust of IoT. Eric Lachapelle is the Chief Executive Officer of the Professional Evaluation and Certification Board (PECB), an international certification body. His role is to help companies and individuals to achieve professional, accredited and worldw...
Your homes and cars can be automated and self-serviced. Why can't your storage? From simply asking questions to analyze and troubleshoot your infrastructure, to provisioning storage with snapshots, recovery and replication, your wildest sci-fi dream has come true. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 20th Cloud Expo, Dan Florea, Director of Product Management at Tintri, will provide a ChatOps demo where you can talk to your storage and manage it from anywhere, through Slack and similar services ...
My team embarked on building a data lake for our sales and marketing data to better understand customer journeys. This required building a hybrid data pipeline to connect our cloud CRM with the new Hadoop Data Lake. One challenge is that IT was not in a position to provide support until we proved value and marketing did not have the experience, so we embarked on the journey ourselves within the product marketing team for our line of business within Progress. In his session at @BigDataExpo, Sum...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ocean9will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Ocean9 provides cloud services for Backup, Disaster Recovery (DRaaS) and instant Innovation, and redefines enterprise infrastructure with its cloud native subscription offerings for mission critical SAP workloads.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Linux Academy, the foremost online Linux and cloud training platform and community, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Linux Academy was founded on the belief that providing high-quality, in-depth training should be available at an affordable price. Industry leaders in quality training, provided services, and student certification passes, its goal is to c...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Telecom Reseller has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Telecom Reseller reports on Unified Communications, UCaaS, BPaaS for enterprise and SMBs. They report extensively on both customer premises based solutions such as IP-PBX as well as cloud based and hosted platforms.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Loom Systems will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Founded in 2015, Loom Systems delivers an advanced AI solution to predict and prevent problems in the digital business. Loom stands alone in the industry as an AI analysis platform requiring no prior math knowledge from operators, leveraging the existing staff to succeed in the digital era. With offices in S...
SYS-CON Events announced today that T-Mobile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc., is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services through leading product and service innovation. The Company's advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 67.4 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and management into a ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Infranics will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Since 2000, Infranics has developed SysMaster Suite, which is required for the stable and efficient management of ICT infrastructure. The ICT management solution developed and provided by Infranics continues to add intelligence to the ICT infrastructure through the IMC (Infra Management Cycle) based on mathemat...
Now that the world has connected “things,” we need to build these devices as truly intelligent in order to create instantaneous and precise results. This means you have to do as much of the processing at the point of entry as you can: at the edge. The killer use cases for IoT are becoming manifest through AI engines on edge devices. An autonomous car has this dual edge/cloud analytics model, producing precise, real-time results. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Crupi, Vice President and Eng...